BOOM BYE HATE: Homophobia Does Disservice to HIV/AIDS Prevention

In this Part 2 of 2, GET DOWN Blogger Alysia C. continues her series on HIV & The Caribbean by taking a look at homophobia and it’s effect on HIV/AIDS prevention efforts in the Caribbean and Caribbean-American Community.

In order to gain deeper understanding of the “murder music” phenomenon and the perpetuation of fear, stigma and hate, I interviewed “Carlos”, a 29 yr old gay Guyanese born man now living in New York City. “Carlos” confirmed that Boom Bye Bye is also one of his favorite songs.

I guess “Carlos” and I, like many others, are so busy enjoying the rhythm and vibe of the music that they just aren’t paying too much attention to the lyrics.

Carlos, who immigrated to the United States from Guyana at the age of 12, confirmed in our interview that though he was just starting to understand what sex was when living in Guyana, he knew of the existence of gay men, known in Guyana as “battyboys” and “anti-men”. “In Guyana, the people are in denial about it (homosexuality). It’s pushed under the rug, not talked about. And when it is known (it’s met) with hostility and hatred.” And there isn’t a wide-ranging network of outreach organizations assisting and educating gay Guyanese men and women. “Gays in Guyana live very isolated lives, here there is more awareness due to the U.S. culture (but among Caribbean-Americans it’s seen as) an outside thing, that it comes from white people and is (the result) of American influence.” As Thomas Glave, a Jamaican professor and writer now living in the States, (and also co-founder of J-FLAG along with Brian Williamson) once said, “The music exacerbates public homophobia. We don’t need this kind of advocacy of violence in Jamaica, which is already very violent.”

So what does this mean for the fight against HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean? Though we know there are multiple ways in which to contract HIV (sharing needles, from mother to child via breast milk, vaginal secretions, etc.), it is still a disease strongly associated with homosexuality. As such, the negative and violent attitudes Caribbean culture harbors about gays have tremendously affected the fight against the virus and disease. Both homosexuals and heterosexuals who in engage in risky sexual behavior fail to get tested as much as they should. Previously, I’ve covered the statistics of reported high rates of new HIV cases among the Caribbean diaspora in this blog. The stigma and discrimination prevent them from accessing vital HIV prevention, treatment and care services. And with the possibility that their homosexuality (or suspicion thereof) may be leaked to the public5 some Caribbean people may not seek HIV/AIDS education, testing or treatment. The harassment they would receive from family, friends, and neighbours keeps them in the dark and leaves them at a higher risk of contracting the virus and/or needlessly suffering from the disease.

Things are a little different when it comes to the Caribbean-American community. Whether born in the West Indies and now living in the States or the child of Caribbean immigrants, Caribbean-Americans and Caribbeans living in the United States often walk a fine line. They juggle the beliefs and traditions of their Caribbean culture with those of American society. Caribbean-American youths may live in a society where homosexuality is more widely accepted but they are also often raised with / exposed to the harsh Caribbean take on homosexuality and HIV/AIDS.

Though Caribbean-Americans may be exposed to these homophobic views, if living in the States, especially here in New York City, they there are few barriers to accessing HIV/AIDS testing, education and treatment information. According to Dr. Monica Sweeney, Asst. Commissioner of the Bureau of HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control at the NYC Health Department, New York state law recently amended that the public health law, Article 27F. This amendment requires that heath care professionals routinely offer an HIV test to all patients, from 13 years old to 64 years old, in primary care settings, emergency departments and inpatient settings. Patients must also be provided information on HIV/AIDS risk and treatment.

But easy access to HIV/AIDS testing treatment doesn’t equal acceptance or tolerance. Even with our growing acceptance of gays and lesbians, Americans also struggle with negative attitudes and violent treatment of homosexuals. Even among some middle school and high school youth, there exists an unbelievable level of gay bullying. So much so that several teens have committed suicide over the past few months as a result of gay bullying and harrasment. We, as Americans, have come a long way in the fight for gay rights but if there are kids killing themselves because of the treatment they are receiving in school, then we as well have a farther to go.

Both The Caribbean and Caribbean-American communities have a lot of work to do to. We must be willing to talk openly and honestly about our issues. Carlos hit it the nail on the head when he said, “[There must be a] willingness for people to confront their biases and homophobia. (There needs to be a] generational shift. People need to be open to talk about it [homosexuality] and not shun their family.”

If we continue working to erase the stigma associated with homosexuality we will see progress made in HIV/AIDS education, testing and treatment throughout the Caribbean. Grassroots efforts must be made to engage the community in a meaningful dialouge in additon to change in all levels of Caribbean society, politically, financially, socially and emotionally.

Susan Timberlake, a senior advisor on human rights and law with the Geneva-based Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), said it best, “…unless we deal with the stigma and discrimination and the punitive legal environments that exist, we will not have an effective response to this HIV epidemic.”

My people, what do you think? Why is homophobia so prevalent in the Caribbean? Should the buggery laws be repealed? What do you think is needed for real change to occur? Do you take issue with ‘murder music’? Is there a place for gays and lesbians in Caribbean society?


REFERENCES

5 Avert.org ‘Homophobia, Prejudice and Attitudes toward Gay Men and Lesbians

Alysia Christiani

alysiasimone@gmail.com


For more information please visit:

Jamaica Forum For Lesbians, All-sexuals and Gays

http://www.jflag.org/

New York City Dept of Heath and Mental Hygiene

http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/html/ah/ah.shtml

International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans And Intersex Association, Latin America & Caribbean

http://ilga.org/ilga/en/organisations/ILGA%20LATIN%20AMERICA%20AND%20CARIBBEAN

Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender And Queer Jamaica

http://glbtqjamaica.blogspot.com/

Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination- Guyana

http://www.sasod.org.gy/

http://sasod.blogspot.com/

Murder Inna Dancehall

http://www.soulrebels.org/dancehall.htm

BOOM BYE HATE: Homophobia Does Disservice to HIV/AIDS Prevention

In this Part 1 of 2, GET DOWN Blogger Alysia C. continues her series on HIV & The Caribbean by taking a look at homophobia and it’s effect on HIV/AIDS prevention efforts in the Caribbean and Caribbean-American Community.

CHORUS (x2): (Its like) Boom bye bye / Inna batty bwoy head / Rude bwoy no promote no nasty man. Dem haffi dead.

VERSE: (Two man) Hitch up on an rub up on / An lay down inna bed / Hug up on another / Anna feel up leg / Send fi di matic an / Di Uzi instead / Shoot dem no come if we shot dem—(GUNSHOT SOUND)




The words above are lyrics to one of my favorite reggae songs. Boom Bye Bye recorded in 1988 then re-released in 1993 by famed dancehall artist Buju Banton. Hearing the song takes me back to my high school days. Red light basement bashments. Summer time BBQs. Folks on the dancefloor doing the bogle and the buttafly. Good times, right?.

Not if you were a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered teen listening to the song. Why? Because Boom Bye Bye is one of the most hate filled, homophobic songs in reggae music. It’s basically a call to kill / inflict bodily harm on all gays and lesbians. For those not versed in Caribbean slang/patois, I’ve loosely translated the lyrics as:

CHORUS (x2): (Its like) Gunshots / In a gay man’s head / Real men don’t promote that nastiness / They should be killed.

VERSE: (Two men) are hugging and rubbing / then lay down in the bed / Hugging one another. And feeling up their legs / Get the automatic / And the Uzi instead / Shoot them come let’s shoot them—(GUNSHOT SOUND)

At the time the song came out, neither my friends nor I gave a thought to the lyrics. I knew what he was saying but all I cared about were the rhythm and vibe of the music. And after all, it’s just a song. No one took it seriously. Or did they?

The truth of the matter is that many people did take the song and the sentiment behind it seriously. Homophobia runs deep in the Caribbean community From Jamaica to St. Lucia, Guyana to Barbados and beyond, Caribbean culture is embedded with Christian fundamentalist beliefs and hyper-masculine attitudes that fuel the idea that homosexuality is immoral and a sin. And that anyone who strikes out against ‘battyboys & sodomites’ (gays and lesbians, note: the term batty is Caribbean slang for buttocks), verbally, emotionally, and even physically, isn’t doing anything wrong. Indeed, such behavior is often approved, encouraged, and even celebrated.

Approval of such behavior was witnessed by a Human Rights Watch1 researcher when, Brian Williamson, a leading Jamaican gay rights activist and co-founder of J-FLAG, Jamaican Forum for Lesbians, All-sexuals and Gays, was murdered in 2004. Shortly after his mutilated body was discovered, a joyous crowd gathered around the crime scene laughing, celebrating and calling out “let’s get them one at a time,” “that’s what you get for sin,” and “let’s kill all of them.” Some even sang lyrics from the Buju Banton song as well.2

Williamsons’ murder is only one of many violent acts committed against gays and lesbians in the Caribbean. Numerous men and women are murdered, beaten, chopped, and burned once they were found out to be or even suspected of being homosexual. And usually the attacker(s) face little or no legal punishment. How is this possible? When homophobia is so deeply entrenched in a society it is hard for a victim of gay bashing to find sympathy or legal recourse for what they’ve been through.

Legally speaking, there are currently 11 countries in the English-speaking Caribbean that still have laws criminalizing sexual and intimate conduct between persons of the same sex. Known as ‘buggery laws’, (buggery is a British term for anal intercourse and beastiality) the Inter-American Commissions for Human Rights named the following countries as still having buggery laws on the books: Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago. Punishment for breaking these laws is most often imprisonment / hard labor from two to ten years.3

Even in leisure time entertainment, specifically danchall reggae music, homophobic attitudes and beliefs are promoted and celebrated. Hugely popular songs by world famous dancehall artists contain lyrics such as:

Everytime I see a battyboy (gay man) / me gun it haffi (have to) buss (bust/shoot) / all battyboy (gay man) you know dem must bite de dust / because a dem the boys a bring it / the AIDS virus4

Songs containing such lyrics, which has come to be known as “murder music”, are beloved and sung by many Caribbeans and Caribbean-American’s. I too, being of Guyanese descent, have been guilty. With the recent rash of high profile “gay bullying” incidents, which have been closely followed here at GET DOWN, I decided to take a deeper look at how the music and culture that I grew up might have a negative impact on the ability to stop stigmatizing HIV and AIDS, and provide prevention and education in my own community.

To Be Continued on Friday, December 10th….
Part 1 of 2

REFERENCES

1Human Rights Watch is one of the world’s leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights.

2 ‘Hated To Death: Homophobia, Violence and Jamaica’s HIV/AIDS Epidemic’ Human Rights Watch 2004

3 Caribbean petition to Inter-American Commissions for Human Rights to urge the repeal of anti-homosexual legislation Oct 2010

4 Batty Boy Fi Die – Red Dragon


Alysia Christiani
alysiasimone@gmail.com

HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean: Haiti (Pt 2)

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following blog is the second of a four-part series on HIV/AIDS and the Caribbean. Look for Part 3 of 4 in August 2010.

On January 12, 2010 an earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale leveled much of Haiti. Among the many building collapsed, lives lost and services interrupted, were those used in the fight against HIV & AIDS. The buildings of the Ministry of Public Health and Population, and countless hospitals and community organizations that worked with the HIV infected population were partially or completely destroyed.

Outreach and education activities such as condom distribution, HIV/AIDS education, testing and distribution of the life saving antiretroviral drugs have been interrupted. And as the country moves to re-establish basic needs and services to all affected by the earthquake, it is important not to forget the importance of re-establishing those services as well.

If HIV/AIDS services and education are not given priority in the rebuilding of Haiti, the current living conditions of many Haitians, may serve to exacerbate the spread of the virus. Many Haitians are living in crowded tent cities with little to no privacy or security. These cities are quickly becoming the sites of an increasing number of rapes, sexual assaults and transactional sex acts.⑤
Kofaviv, a local grass-roots organization that gives aid to rape victims in the capital of Port-au-Prince, has counseled triple the amount of rape victims since the earthquake than they have in the same amount of time last year.⑥

But despite these obstacles, Haiti and her partners in the fight against HIV/AIDS are committed to rebuilding the country’s infrastructure so as to continue servicing and educating the population. Both in the short-term with stop gap measures designed to get the much needed antiretroviral drugs to those infected with HIV or condoms distributed among the displaced. To long term goals such as rebuilding the health systems and the national network of people living with HIV.⑦

This tiny island nation has, for many years, suffered through political and economic upheaval as well as numerous natural disasters. But despite the magnitude of destruction the recent earthquake has dealt the Haitian people, it is still possible for the country to rise from the rubble and rebuild the network of individuals and organizations that helped to educated, treat and prevent HIV/AIDS infections. With a renewed focus, and help from international partners, Haiti can once again serve, service and arm their people for the continued fight against the virus.

For more information please visit:

Gheskio…http://www.gheskio.org/
Partners in Health…http://www.pih.org/
The Haitian Centers Council…http://hccinc.org/

Alysia Christiani
alysiasimone@gmail.com

5 UNAIDS 2010 Helping Haiti Rebuild Its AIDS Response
6 Sexual Assaults Add to Miseries of Haiti’s Ruins, NY Times June 2010
7 UNAIDS 2010 Helping Haiti Rebuild Its AIDS Response

HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean: Haiti (Pt 1)

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following blog is the second of a four-part series on HIV/AIDS and the Caribbean. Look for Part 3 of 4 in August 2010.

Growing up a Guyanese-American girl in the predominately West Indian neighborhood of Flatbush in Brooklyn, NY, I’ve run the streets with people from all over the Caribbean. But Haitians and Haitian-Americans have always had a special place in my circle of friends. Must be all those cute Ayisyen dudes I’ve dated throughout the years, 😉

But I remember a time when being Haitian or of Haitian decent was not a thing to be proud of. When kids would make fun of, be rude to, or just straight up mean to anyone claiming Haiti as their homeland. Though there were a few reasons why this happened, predominant among them was the mistakenly believed link between Haiti and the emergence of the HIV virus.

When the virus hit Haiti, it hit hard. And as the rate of infection rose on the island nation, many Haitian immigrants to the United States were found to be carrying the HIV virus as well. By 1983 the Centers for Disease Control had officially listed ‘Haitian entrants to the United States’ as ‘persons who may be considered at increased risk of AIDS’.① This statement decimated the Haitian tourism industry and created a climate of discrimination, stigma and isolation towards Haitians and Haitian-Americans.

Ever since then, the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Haiti has been one of the most severe in the Caribbean. Before the earthquake that devastated the country this past January, the adult HIV prevalence rate was estimated at 2.2%. An estimated 120,000 people were living with the virus (53% of whom were women). And those living with HIV in Haiti accounted for 47% of all people living with HIV in the Caribbean.②

The virus was running rampant throughout the Haitian community. But thanks to the coordinated response of local and international doctors, nurses, community workers, public health experts, and organizations the tide was beginning to turn. The work of organizations like Partners in Heath and the Group for the Study of Kaposi’s Sarcoma and Opportunistic Infections (GHESKIO), the HIV infection rate had started to come down. ③ These groups, and others, were able to:

1. Educate the population on safe sex practices
2. Get antiretroviral drugs into the hands of 41% of the infected population
3. Prevent mother-child transmission of the virus by 22%④

And though there was still much to be done to contain the disease, things were moving forward.

Then the earthquake hit…

Alysia Christiani
alysiasimone@gmail.com

1 MMWR Weekly (1983) ‘Current trends prevention of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS): Report of Inter-Agency Recommendations’, March 4, 32(8);101-3
2 UNAIDS 2010 Helping Haiti Rebuild Its AIDS Response
3 UNAIDS 2008 repot on the Global AIDS Epidemic Helping Haiti Rebuild Its AIDS Response
4 UNAIDS 2010 Helping Haiti Rebuild Its AIDS Response

To Be Continued Thursday, July 22

HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean, Part 1 of 4

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following blog kicks off a four-part series on HIV/AIDS and the Caribbean. Look for Part 2 of 4 in July 2010.

When discussing the HIV/AIDS crisis, I find that the conversation usually focuses on two locations, The United States and Africa. I live in the U.S., so of course I’m most concerned with what is going on in my own backyard. Since the continent of Africa has the highest occurrence of HIV/AIDS in the world — fully two-thirds of all people in the world who are infected with HIV live in sub-Saharan Africa* — I am very concerned about the fight against new HIV and AIDS there also.

But there is another area of the world that needs to enter the conversation — The Caribbean**. As a woman of Guyanese decent (big up all GT massive an’ crew! Sorry, I couldn’t help myself ☺), I’m concerned about the impact that the HIV/AIDS epidemic is having in the Caribbean.

Before linking up with GET DOWN, I had no idea as to what really was going on in the Caribbean community related to HIV/AIDS. I assumed that, like most places in the world, the Caribbean population must suffer with the infection and disease as well but I was shocked to learn that after sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean has the highest rate of HIV prevalence than any other area of the world. In 2008, an estimated 20,000 Caribbean people were infected with HIV and approximately 12,000 died of AIDS***.

Not only are those living in the Caribbean disproportionately affected, but the Caribbean population here in the States is heavily affected as well. According to the NYC Dept of Health and Mental Hygiene 2007 report, Caribbean immigrants make up roughly 25% of the New York City population and of the 23% of foreign-born New Yorkers who are newly diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, 50% of those are from the Caribbean. I was floored by this number. Digging deeper I found that between 2001 – 2006 there were 5,804 new HIV diagnoses in New York City with the majority of those diagnoses being individuals who were born in the Caribbean. As reported to the NYC Dept of Health and Mental Hygiene Sept 2005, the largest number of these diagnoses, 32%, can be found in the East Flatbush/Flatbush section of Brooklyn, a neighborhood with a high concentration of Caribbean immigrants.

Faced with these statistics the questions on my mind are (a) Why is the rate of HIV/AIDS so high among the Caribbean and Caribbean-American community? and (b) What can we do to turn the tide?

Based on data reported to the NYC Dept of Health and Mental Hygiene 2007, heterosexual sex is the main mode of transmission with the commercial sex trade playing a large role in some areas. Men who have sex with men, but who do not indentify as “homosexual” (MSM) are also a factor in the spread of the disease. Given the culturally ingrained homophobia that exists throughout the region, it is not known how much this mode of transmission truly contributes to the spread of HIV/AIDS. It is estimated that MSM sex accounts for 12% of infections, but due to denial and under-reporting it is thought that the actual rate is, in reality, much higher✜.

Unprotected sex combined with the poor public infrastructure, poverty, gender inequalities and limited resources that many Caribbean countries endure make for an environment that only exacerbates the spread of the disease.

Despite these obstacles there are steps we can take to help slow the rate of infection among the Caribbean and Caribbean-American communities:

1. Increased sexual health education.
2. Increased treatment, care and support of those living with HIV/AIDS.
3. Increased education on ways to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Therefore I urge all Caribbeans and Caribbean-Americans to come out and support the 2010 National Caribbean-American HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on June 8th in your city. Visit http://www.caribbeanhealthaidsday.com/dsp/event/dsp_events.php to find out what events are happening near you.

And for those located in New York City, be sure to come out for the 10th Annual AIDS Walk Caribbean on June 20th. Visit http://www.aidswalkcaribbean.com/ to register.

It is only through increased education and awareness that we can begin to slow the spread of HIV/AIDS in our community. I encourage you to educate yourself and others as to the reality of the situation and commit yourself to doing your part to help change it.

For more information please visit:

AVERT
http://www.avert.org/aids-caribbean.htm

PAN CARIBBEAN PARTNERSHIP AGAINST HIV/AIDS
http://pancap.org/

THE HAITIAN CENTERS COUNCIL, INC.
http://hccinc.org/

CARIBBEAN WOMEN’S HEALTH ASSOCIATION
http://www.cwha.org/

THE BODY’S INT’L HIV/AIDS ORGANIZATIONS http://www.thebody.com/index/hotlines/internat.html#caribbean

THE AUDRE LORDE PROJECT
http://alp.org/resources/nyc

—Alysia Christiani
alysiasimone@gmail.com

REFERENCES

*UNAIDS (2008) ‘Report on the global AIDS epidemic’
**CariCom Member profiles. The Caribbean includes islands in the Caribbean
Sea and the mainland countries of Belize, Guyana and Suriname.
***UNAIDS 2009 AIDS epidemic update
✜UNAIDS/WHO 2008 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic, July 2008 and
2009 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic 2009
✜UNAIDS (2008) ‘Report on the global AIDS epidemic’

ABC’S, 123’S AND THE BIRDS & BEES?

SHOULD SEX EDUCATION BE TAUGHT IN SCHOOLS?

A few weeks ago my sons, 10 and 11 years old, asked me to help them with their homework. “Sure,” I said, “What do you need?”, thinking it’s probably a question about fractions or spelling. I was thrown for loop when they said, “We have to do a paper on HIV/AIDS. Can you help us?”

Now, I like to think that I’m a pretty hip parent but my intial reaction was straight panic. “What?! Why are they learning this? They don’t need to know this! Oh jeez, my babies are growing up. Nooooooo!”

But I calmed down and realized that yes; I do want them to learn about HIV/AIDS. And was thankful that the school was covering it, because we hadn’t gotten that far in our talks yet. So this was a nice segue for us to continue the conversation at home.

But for many parents this is not cool, convenient or wanted. They do not want schools teaching anything about sex, contraception, pregnancy, etc. Many parents, politicians and lawmakers feel that this crosses a line. That sex and related topics should be taught only parents in the home.

An extreme example of this is a letter sent from a District Attorney in Wisconsin to local school districts, threatening the possible arrest of teachers who teach the state mandated sex education curriculum, stating that to do so was to contribute to the delinquency of a minor.

LINK TO CNN STORY:
http://www.cnn.com/video/data/2.0/video/us/2010/04/09/hln.vy.should.sex.ed.be.taught.cnn.html

If you read through the actual memo (http://cnnac360.files.wordpress.com/2010/04/wisconsin-memo.pdf) it becomes clear that the D.A. and his supporters are terrified that informed children = amoral children. Which makes no sense to me. If we want our children to avoid a potentially dangerous situation, it is our responsibility to arm them the knowledge and tools to do so. No matter how uncomfortable that makes us.

So yes, I’m a fan of sex education in the schools. The keys are 1. To teach it in sensitive and age appropriate manner (i.e. kindergartners learn that no one is to touch their private parts and high schoolers learn about contraception and abstinence) and 2. To realize that sex education in the classroom is only most effective when it becomes a springboard for a bigger conversation that takes place at home. Otherwise, as noted in a 2001 survey published by the Alan Guttmacher Institute, ‘most studies of school based and school linked health centers revealed no effect on student sexual behavior or contraceptive use.’

The surprising thing to note is that, at least here in New York City, that ‘schools do not have to use [the NY Dept of Educations’] curriculum, they just have to meet the state standards….they can use their own curriculum as long as it meets those requirements.’, (Marge Feinberg, spokesperson for the NYC Dept of Ed). And though the state standards include a comprehensive sex education component, it is only recommended. The required curriculum does teach an understanding of healthy choices, but says nothing specific about sexual health.

So before you jump off the deep end at the thought of your child learning the birds and bees from his gym/health teacher, 1. Find out what exactly your state and school curriculum teaches. It may not be what you think it is. And 2. though the school may start the conversation, be sure that you, the parent/guardian, finishes it. It takes a village to raise a child but no one can shape and influence that child the way their immediate family can.

Signed,

Alysia C.
alysiasimone@gmail.com

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